Elite group says design overhaul overdue

Canberra Times, 26 January 2011.



© Canberra Times

FLAG DEBATE By John Huxley Elite group says design overhaul overdue In an unprecedented show of strength and purpose more than a dozen Australians of the Year dating back to the 1960s have declared their support for a new national flag. Patrick McGorry, the outgoing, 2010 award-winner, said yesterday that the current design was a source of confusion overseas and considerable embarrassment at home. "It′s time Australia grew up. Right now, it′s a bit like a slowly maturing, generation Y adolescent, a 27-yearold who just won′t leave home," he said, calling on the nation to move belatedly into "independent adulthood". Professor McGorry, a mental health expert who believes a new flag is now an "achievable goal" on the way to the greater prize of a republic, is one of 15 former winners who have signed a statement calling for change. Other signatories include clean-up campaigner Ian Kiernan (1994), swimmers Dawn Fraser (1964) and Shane Gould (1972) and scientists Ian Frazer, Sir Gustav Nossal (2000) and Tim Flannery (2007). Ausflag, the non-profit organisation which drafted the statement, believes it can secure support from other award recipients, including runner Cathy Freeman (1998). It is understood only a few of the previous winners approached withheld support. Harold Scruby, who founded Ausflag in 1981, said, "This is a major breakthrough, backed by some of the nation′s most respected people." Timed to coincide with the traditional Australia Day debate on national identity, the statement says the present flag is a transitional symbol that "highlights and promotes the flag of another nation", the British Union Jack. "We must boldly take the next step and define ourselves confidently and distinctly before the world. Our new flag must be unambiguously and inclusively Australian, representing all of us equally. "We believe the time has come to embrace a flag worthy of our sovereign, independent, mature, egalitarian nation; our own flag." The high-powered proposal, which comes after a series of unsuccessful moves to replace the flag, calls on parliament to produce a design which, "like our national anthem, can be put to a plebiscite of the Australian people". Supporters concede that, like devising an acceptable model for a republic, designing a flag to meet Australia′s needs will not be easy. Mr Kiernan said, "So much mythology is involved that a redesign will always be contentious." Ausflag alone has promoted three design competitions in 1986 leading up to the bicentenary; in 1993 after Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympics; and in 1998, in the run-up to the new millennium. Not surprisingly, though the signatories insist the reflagging process should not be divisive, they have different views both on the shortcomings of the present flag and the design of what might replace it. For example, retired public administrator Lowitja O′Donoglitie (1984) says the current design "symbolises dispossession and oppression ... represents a monoculture and intolerance" towards indigenous people". On one thing they agree the time for change is long overdue. Irishborn Professor McGorry, who has been an outspoken critic of Australia′s refugee policy during the past 12 months, says there is no excuse for inaction. "I am sure some people will say, ′Oh, this is not the time, Australia has other priorities′. But that′s pathetic. Governments can deal with dozens, hundreds of issues at one time. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, you know." To continue ignoring the issue would only confirm a widespread feeling, apparent since the last federal election, that there was a lack of leadership in public life, he said. Mr Scruby says the Gillard Government would, no doubt, like to "run a mile from the subject", but he has confidence in the latest initiative. Meanwhile, Ausflag is now on the hunt for commitments from other Australians of the Year as well as former prime ministers such as Paul Keating, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser.